A History on RPG Maker Earthbound-likes (and fan games) – Part One

Say fuzzy pickles

Baseball, newspapers, cars, asphalt. Just simply making your RPG set in contemporary times is immediately going to invite comparisons to HAL’s well known Mother series (alternatively named Earthbound). A light hearted touch is also required or else you just might veer into being a horror game like Parasite Eve. Of course Mother games don’t shy away from dark and trippy themes. Things like war and crime do exist in our current times, but it’s hard to really contextualize turn-based conflict in a neighborhood without a weird spin. Being Nintendo family friendly was also an incentive. A zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion, a cult, or SOMETHING needs to happen (Earthbound has all of this) That I think is why it’s so easy to steer into Shigesato Itoi’s wheelhouse when making something modern. Fantasy and Sci-fi are inherently absurd, typical ideal American dream suburbia is not (depending on who you ask). Though really just merely making your game quirky is enough to obtain the Earthbound label.

Things haven’t changed. There’s a certain indie game discourse around being tired of “Earthbound clones.” I uh, won’t go into it. Let’s just say the outlook and attitude surrounding it back then was about the same as comparing every platformer to Cave Story. It is hard to condense what exactly elicits everything that makes Earthbound, Earthbound. However with the early goings of the RPG Maker community there really weren’t that many EB-likes. A ton of fan-games sure, but it’s interesting to think about how the modular-ness of certain Squaresoft sprite rips had more effect on the setting (and by proxy the story) of many RPG Maker titles more so than the actual art-style. There is actually a dedicated website dedicated to providing Earthbound rips formatted for RM2K along with eventing tutorials. There were more templates and resources than there were actual fangames (and a lot of battle systems help threads on how to make rolling numbers). 

Early Earthbound Fangames (2000-2005)

So Starmen.net is probably going to be brought up a lot as it dates back to as far as 2000 and hosted many fanworks. The fan games and apps page has anything you could possibly imagine (there is an Earthbound Doom WAD for chrissakes). The site’s fangame forum has become something of a RPG Maker community of its own and some usernames caught my eye when researching for this article. The early game that sticks out is EarthBound Max (RM95) (2000). This is probably the earliest and most tangible RM incarnation resembling EB. It looks to be RPG Maker 95 based on the remaining screenshot. The Angelfire site for it is miraculously still up. Sadly the download isn’t recoverable due to the defunct third party hosting. All that remains is a story write up.

EarthBound Force (RM2K) (2001) – Was an Earthbound / Resident Evil crossover. This won’t be the only cross over we’ll get into. The screenshots that remain shows Future RTP being used. No download seems to be available.

EarthBound Revolution (RM2K) (2002) was another game that was sadly lost to the silicon of time. But there was quite a complimentary writeup by someone at Starmen.net praising its effort.

Earthbound: Ness’s Legacy (RM2K) (2002) Demo is fortunately still available as a download. It is a direct sequel to Earthbound although it is a game with Ness trapped inside of an RTP game nightmare more than anything. Using the FF9 battle theme for combat is certainly a choice. Curiously this is dedicated to the unreleased Earthbound 64, Mother 3 was often the alternate name for the game that was announced to be cancelled UNTIL…

Download (Google Drive)

Mother 3 and One Third (RM2K) (2004) Demo

This is a step up from the usual RTP game with Ness swapped for Alex. It uses the actual rips for chipsets and characters. Although I spoke too soon when Pokey asks if you want to fight and follows up with “Too bad bitch” if you say no. The author has apologized for swearing in a mainline Mother game, hopefully whoever actually makes Mother 4 does not repeat the same mistake.

Download (Google Drive)

What’s even more intriguing is that Starmen.net had various community focused games  Rescue Reidman (2002), Rescue Reidman 2 (2002), and 2015: A Starmen.Net Story (2003) are in-joke games that feature community members likely brainstormed in an IRC chat long ago. This was really common in the RPG Maker community at large but it’s nice to see the tradition carried out here. There was even a game called Earthbound Petition (2002) which was based on a petition Starmen.net created that had over 200,000 signatures to bring Mother 3 (Earthbound 64) to fruition after it had been cancelled. Mother 3’s development history was… complicated and even more-so the fan outcry for anything Earthbound related. The passionate desires of the fandom are so embedded in its history that not even fan games made in RPG Maker can avoid it.

It’s easy to forget that Mother 3’s release in Japan was in 2006 (2 years after the Nintendo DS released), the anticipation for this game and its translation is likely what spurred the second wave of EB-likes among RPG Maker users. Some argue that Mother 3 is very different in tone and themes than Mother 1 and 2. It was wild timing for a 2D sprite based RPG by Nintendo/HAL to be released during the early Xbox 360 days, but the perfect era to be getting into pixel art on an RPG hobbyist forum.

Homeland (RM2K3) (2006) Demo

Download Link (Mega)

Anyone hailing from the now defunct Gaming World would probably mention Homeland by Marcus, a game that stood out due to its very influence. This is as far as I can tell the first non-fan game that’s clearly derivative of EB. At first the EB formula is followed very closely. You name every relevant character to the bop of some music and get very ominous with the year declared “XX58” along with a narration that alludes to strange happenings. However what strays away from the formula is the writing. The jokes have a sort of cartoon sitcom edge to it. The Office is referenced. Your computer has a BSOD and is next to a “Playtinspehere 6” (I mean we’re almost there number-wise). My most vivid memory of playing this game back in 2006, is the rodent licking his nuts.

Thankfully it’s SFW

Looking back at Earthbound’s influences. A japanese developer set out to depict an endearing parody of America from their perspective with a vague time period smorgasbord of American culture. It’s set in the 90s yet some locales look straight out of a vintage Archie comic. The game is drenched in rockabilly / psychedelic aesthetics that emerged from the 60s-70s transition. The Runaway Five is similar to the Blues Brothers who play a song eerily similar to Changeling by The Doors. The Casey Bat has a 25% chance to hit in reference to the 1888 poem “Casey at the Bat.” An NPC calls you Rambo. The Starmen resembles Gort from 1951’s The Day The Earth Stood Still along with the title-screen evoking War of the Worlds. Even though The Beatles are British, there are a LOT of The Beatles references (and by proxy, Mother is named after a John Lennon song). In fact the entire soundtrack is a discography copyright mine field. Mr. T is in it.

You take all of those culture bombs and stuff them into an SNES cartridge and give it to a 90s kid and say: “Here, be influenced by this” That kid becomes a teenager in the mid 2000s setting out to depict an homage to a video game made by a Japanese developer doing an homage to American/western culture. Whatever gets retained and filtered depends on that teenager’s sensibilities. I’m fascinated by that chemistry. Even if it results in a rodent “licking his nuts”.

The chipset graphics by Shardicefire were pre-existing and what Marcus attributes to deciding to create the game. There are some Earthbound rips for the on map monsters. The charsets and some furniture seem custom. The battle backgrounds are where things get wild. As you know the default battle system is extremely limited when it comes to visuals. At first glance the background only has one static layer. If you look in the Terrain tab however, it lets you separate the battle background associated with it into 2 layers that can go into horizontal and vertical speeds. It gives just enough wiggle room to create your own designs to experiment but just enough limitation that you can’t do wild procedural generation. Just how we like our RPG Makers.

What stuck out to me was the composer for this game: Ragnar. GamingW was known for having a sizable music community. Ragnar in particular was a very experimental artist and had a keen interest in eccentric internet culture. The music really leans in the psychedelic aspects but it’ll even have unexpected vocal samples. There’s a lot of speed up and slow down or record skips mixing that feels like DJ club music. The most emblematic sound of EB to me is that crunchy sound chip white noise which the composer emulates quite well. Something about it really gives off Gaming World’s soul as the site started to gravitate towards weirder games (one of which we’ll get to later).

The game is quite difficult at first. As long as you know to get the second party member ASAP it becomes a little more tolerable. Class is cancelled and you’re stopped by a bully who… challenges you to a scavenger hunt of all things which means hunting down specific on-map monsters. I blazed through the end and it seemed to end on a cliffhanger with a mysterious government agent up to a nefarious plot.

Demo pretty much ends there. It’s a crude EB with a slight edge to it A purist would say it doesn’t even come close to matching the exact tone of the writing aside from a few miscellaneous NPCs. Yet I feel drawn to what exactly gets portrayed or even observed in the comedic musings of the writing. It’s something you don’t get by default in a fantasy setting. The parents seem straight out of Daria yapping about work and coffee. The mother is at least a step up from the usual RTP mom. There’s nothing super clairvoyant in the exact outlook on the education system or bullies, but the direction seems to just be: exaggerate society a little and it makes for a good RPG backdrop. Which I think it sufficiently does.

But what if I told you this wasn’t even the first Earthbound clone to come out in the year 2006? 6 months before there was in fact (shocker) an Earthbound Fangame.

Earthbound Memories (RM2K3) (2006)

Download Link (Mega)

This is a nice treat since the download was thought to be lost until recovered in 2021. So just in time for this article. This game is surprisingly hefty, with a whopping 96 maps and yet it is still a demo. The author was once a maintainer for the RMXP EarthBound Starter Kit and a moderator on Starmen.net. 

The intro is surprisingly good. Maybe my brain has been battered by all the first draft Earthbound-but-RTP games but I feel like this is the turning point of the RM scene where the majority started paying attention to things like tone and direction. The game opens up with an In-Media-Res with you the hero invading the starman base. It has a credit sequence that you can walk through as the names pop up. There’s a very visionary aspect to how everything is paced, the sound effects are lifted directly from the game, but even something as simple as a pause or prompt has that Nintendo feel. The battle scenes have a sort of Phantasy Star over the shoulder view rather than first person. The 2 Layered scrolling backgrounds are used to decent effect and the PSI effects are pretty faithful.

You descend deep into an elevator with human NPCs saying vague and non-decrepit things. You make your way through a strange sewer of madness that evokes the last dungeon of Earthbound. You then fight a Starwoman? I guess? At the end it turns out it was all a dream by a grown up Paula. 

At first I thought she’d be the main character but it turns out the game basically follows the exact  plot beats as the original. The title of the game in the application window is “Earthbound 2” after all. Aside from the events clearly having transpired since the first game, Onett is pretty much recreated. I ask myself how imperative is this? If I had to say anything about fanworks, I often question why they need to feel like remakes. Sure Mother 2 often feels like a remake to Mother 1 but they still deviate quite a bit in terms of production values and story. There’s at least some kind of evolution. Maybe it’s enough for some authors to simply recreate what they love and edit from there.

Disclaimer: The game asks you what your favourite game is

After reaching the meteor and descending down to a basement the demo ends quite shortly. The demo does let you wander around in the remaining maps that lack story content but contain wide empty spaces and NPCs to talk to. There’s a neat little debug room with a CBS demo (within a demo with a DBS). People were really dedicated to recreating the battle system despite RM’s DBS being quite fine for the job. The urge to have those rolling slot machine numbers for the character status is hard to resist I suppose. One detail I really like is that there’s a photo album in your room of all the photos taken in the previous game.

Overall it’s a neat demo, and the intro is the most impressive part. I wish the game maintained that endgame tone. I don’t mean that it needs to be so edgy that Pokey calls you a bitch, but I think the biggest potential fangames have is to go all out on one or two aspects of something existing. The world building is done for you for the most part, the trick is what to do with all of that and harness it into something different. The game in the next article of this series might just do that.

This became a much bigger article than I intended, but it’s fun to see how the Mother series has affected the RPG Maker culture at large, as even non-EB clones tend to reflect those sensibilities. I’ll also be getting into the games that didn’t even make it past a demo and the wild battle system templates. So stay tuned for part two.

Starmen.net

Starmen.net Fangames (Archive)

PSI-RPG2K (Earthbound Resources and Tutorials)

Seekers of the Sun

Author: Remains of Scythe / Remainaery
Released: June 2004
Engine: RPG Maker 2000

In the early 2000s, CBSes (or Custom Battle Systems) were all the rage among RPG maker users. At the time RM2K was only able to do Dragon Quest (first person perspective) battles that were quite plain. There was an unspeakable notion in the scene at the time: that almost everyone wanted something akin to Final Fantasy 6. Give us chibi sprites standing on the side of the screen delivering blows that pop out numbers and all of our problems would be solved (except for motivation, limitations of time, and responsibilities). However Seekers of the Sun is notable in that it didn’t just rest at making a side view, but decided to tackle a Chrono Trigger styled battle system. Where the battles would happen on the actual map you were just walking around on. There have been “tech” demos that attempted this, but this is the only actual playable RM game with a CT styled CBS that I can recall.

The game is set in a cold dystopian underground complex. You play as the edgelord of edgelords, an artificial being known as Abyss. Much like the start of Elfen Lied (or the more kid friendly Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back) you’re going on a rampage on those responsible for creating you. Abyss spouts lines of dialogue about how powerful he is and pathetic the things he’s going up against. Although this is all quite self-indulgent and angsty I kind of welcome it these days. Anecdotally I come across a lot of modern RPGs and games that are a bit too afraid to go down this route, or are too self-aware to fall too hard into this trap. The strength of this game’s grim dark tone is that things just feel IMPORTANT in ways that are hard to explain. Probably due to the various biblical references and showy philosophical musings. Ultimately this feels like an in-media res intro ala Breath of Fire 4 where you play as a powerful being at first to get a taste of the battle system while things are still easy. It’s likely you’re meant to play a more optimistic protagonist later on.

The graphics are mostly CT edits that are cohesively put together. There’s this dominant blue hue added to a lot of the assets and makes the world rather cold and unwelcoming. Some places look really great, and even if they’re a slog to navigate sometimes, they sure work well as a backdrop for when the battle starts. Speaking of the battles, there’s sadly not much to say. You can spam attack, defend, or use an item. The author’s note says he was persuaded to just release what he had even if the battle system was still basic. Still it’s really cool to see what the result looks like when put into an actual game with story. The execution is simply making the attack animation be a picture that moves to whatever xy coordinate the monster is, and play effects over the target. The challenge compared to other CBSes is mainly figuring out how to organize events on the maps themselves without things getting too messy. Taking a peak into the editor it seems like a lot of copy pasting is done in an organized fashion on the maps to pull this off. Every possible target and charset setting/animation is placed on the map even if you’re only fighting way less than the maximum. There are interesting design challenges to consider as far as how they’re initiated and where the space ought to be. There aren’t a ton of a battles to experience as a result of this.

The CBS programming was done by Kokibi, and in true collaborative fashion, Remains of Sycthe helped with the art on Kokibi’s own project: A Gate into Eternity. Seekers of The Sun garnered way more attention despite both projects featuring elaborate battle systems. Notably this was a German made game (seems only to be in English as far as I know) that was featured on Gaming Ground Zero alongside the likes of Velsarbor. It’s interesting to look into the author’s history and his origins being that of a webcomic circle. A lot of the faceset/portaits are his and seems very much in tune with the angsty dark anime aesthetic that plagued many deviant art pages and webrings. It gives the impression that RPGMaker wasn’t just for making “your own Final Fantasy” but also to bring imagined adventures to life that you had in drawings and in your mind. There’s a blend of rips and custom art that really adds character to the game and even though this only got as far as a proof of concept, I’m glad it exists.

Estimated Length: Less than an hour

Download Here (English)
RPG Maker Quartier Download (Mirror)
RMArchiv Page (Download Mirror)
Author’s Deviant Art
GGZ Archive and History + Download
Youtube Playthrough
Interview with Kokibi and Scythe (Google Translated from German)
German Site Page (RPG Atelier)
Trailer (Youtube)

Crossbone

Created by: Daniel Olsén
Released: August 2003
Engine: RM2000

It’s got pirates, robots, explosions and an old man who talks to birds! What more could you want? Back in the Gaming Ground Zero days I would occasionally browse the main site. There was no way to know of an upcoming game release or anything, no notifications or popups. You’d just go through your daily sites and hope to see an update. Games weren’t user submitted on GGZ you see, they were often approved and placed by the webmaster. One early morning, I happened across a game called Crossbone with only a couple of sentences and a title screen to go by. That was the thing about GGZ, you never really knew what you were going to get. Yet the games from that site were always a step above most RM games due to the curated nature of the members and the community.

Replaying this for the first time in 15 years, I realize this game still has a lot of heart. While the battles are a bit rough (enemies are sometimes higher HP than they need to be), the sequences are just so imaginatively crafted. A lot of the scenes often take a page out of a Final Fantasy’s idea of comedic relief. Where nameless henchmen have just as much personality as the main characters. A lot of the events play out like a Saturday-morning cartoon with a pint of seriousness. You play as Breeze, an anchor wielding (swords aren’t cool enough for him) freelancer who always has trouble following him wherever he goes. After getting entangled with some pirates he gets knocked out by a wave caused by an unknown being. This spirals into further crazy adventures.

“I was planning to pack so much into that game that it would have been unwieldy. I did learn a lot about being creative within limitations thinking back on it, even if it creeps up on me from time to time. Now my problem is usually the opposite, I tend to over-plan so I end up exhausted before I even begin haha.”

Daniel Olsén

The art is comprised mostly of original art overlayed on an RTP chipset framework. For example you might see the standard RTP ship tilset, but covered in metallic tiles made by the author himself. A lot of the scenes are accompanied by drawings that act as comic book panels of sorts. They give a really good cinematic emphasis in the flashbacks and important segments. I could talk about the individual aspects of this game, but it really comes down to it feeling like an adventure. I think RPGs always have that problem of sometimes starting out with hometown + chores or like fighting rats in a sewer dungeon. Crossbone just says screw that, you’re fighting a robot with an anchor in the first 6 minutes. There’s a sequence where this old man summons a giant owl god thing with a sword to fight this giant bug thing. There’s another section where a ship you’re on gets raided by dragon people using a slime infested coral reef that stops the ship from moving, but like, it can also turn into a mech? AND A UNICORN LOOKING BOAT ALSO TURNS INTO A MECH TO STOP IT.

“The ship battle sequence for Crossbone is made by the creator of Mog’s Adventure, in return I created the maps and such for the final dungeon of that game. A lot of the non-sprite art in the game is embarrassing looking back since I tended to draw the heads before the body so the proportions came out all janky. But it is what it is and every experience is valuable for the future. After Crossbone I went to college, I experience various things and worked as a freelance illustrators for a few years.”

Daniel Olsén
The dungeon in Mog’s Adventure that Daniel worked on

The author Daniel Olsén still works on game projects from time to time. His passion for fiction and art has never faded and mostly does art and comics. It’s easy to see the connection between how bombastic and theatrical Crossbone was and his current artwork. Although that can take a lot of effort and time, sometimes leaving an impression is worth it in the end. It certainly added to the surprise of browsing through RPG Maker games all those years ago.

Check out Daniel Olsén’s portfolio!

Estimated Length : 2 hours or so

Download Here (Archive)
GGZ Archive and History
Youtube Playthrough (Chapter 1)

Legion Saga Zenith

Created by: BusterManZero
Released: June 2003
Engine: RM2000

So what if I told you people not only made fan games in rpgmaker, but people made fan games of rpgmaker games in rpgmaker? Really makes you think doesn’t it? The catalyst for such a project came from the Legion Saga series by a user called Kamau. These were 3 full games made in RPG Maker loosely inspired by Suikoden and other RPGs. What made Legion Saga special was that it was proof that you really could make a “numbered” series with RPG Maker provided you had the motivation and drive to pull it off. The original Legion Saga was going to have a remake made in RPG Maker 2003 (though there’s even another still being made), and there was even a spinoff game featuring a side character that had an ABS. It was everything you’d expect from a “franchise” even having its own lore wiki before wikis were even a thing. Enter in people wanting to make fan games to further expand on this potential universe, 9 of them in fact. Many of them were never finished, but the most prominent was Legion Saga Zenith (Not to be confused with Legion Saga Zero) as it was one of the first.

This is a strange combo of things. At first, the system sets, the Roco facesets, the Luca Blight Battle midis and the political dialogue involving kings and assassins are all there to feel like Legion Saga. Now most common wisdom would say if it looks and quacks like a duck then… but wait – the wide open mapping with no concern for proportions, the constant spelling mistakes, dialogue prose that of a robot… this is a noob RTP game! It may be far from RTP in terms of resources, but the application of everything makes it feel very rudimentary. It’s not to say the actual Legion Saga series doesn’t always have its shortcomings, but there’s just something about the cutscenes in Zenith that feel “off” as if there isn’t any coherence to the narrative.

Important events will just happen and then resolve moments after. Typically a known Legion Saga character will come in to save the day only to leave faster than that. As if these characters were actors with limited billing to do a cameo in a straight to VHS sequel. The writing overall really does sit in the realm of Shattered Samurai. Instead of awkwardly appropriating Asian tropes though, it’s weirdly appropriating itself while collapsing in on the source material. When both the source game and fan game are made in the same engine and only mere years apart, it becomes interesting to separate the standards and differences between the two, a microcosm of fandom vs creator interaction.

“Okay that’s great and all” you interrupt, “but is this game deemed CANON?”

Looking at the handy rules and regulations, you wouldn’t even be considered a fan game if you set the events after Legion Saga 3. But what does it matter at this point? Star Wars is by all accounts being made by fans these days. Just about any long lasting franchise will be recycled into eternity thanks to copyright extensions (Several NES games would be entered in the public domain by now to give you an idea of an alternate history). RPG Maker 2k/3 pre-2013 was a wild west though, the Legion Saga games were made on an illegal program used along with illegally used graphics. There is no real jurisdiction to refer to, nothing was enforced except from the culture of the RM community itself. That’s what I like about the situation of Legion Saga fan-games, they just did not give a shit about the outside world, yet stood by these invisible rules by Kamau’s word anyway. One thing that’s for sure though… is that Space Funeral 2 and 3 are definitely canon.

I have no clue what I’m going to write when I get to like, the 10th Final Fantasy RM fan game…

Download Here (Archive) NOTE: May require RTP 1.8
Download (Queen’s Court Mirror)
RPG Town topic on the state of LS fan games (2003)
Legion Saga Downloads
Youtube Sample Playthrough

Huey the Kid

Created by: Taylor`y`Josh
Released: July 2003
Engine: RM2003

Back in the early to mid 2000s the site Gaming World became my go-to place for everything RPG Maker. It would just keep appearing on google whenever I was looking for resources or games. At some point the site stopped, everything was frozen. Coaster Craft Gold was permanently on the front page for all to see. But my teenage self didn’t care, the site was still functional and I could still browse the many pages looking through content even if nothing new was going to be posted. Since a lot of RM games were funneled/re-posted through GW, it was a time for me to catch up on the RM games I had missed. One of these games I randomly remembered from this time was Huey the Kid.

It’s one of those RM games where it’s hard to tell if it’s a comedy or serious game. You play as an RTP kid sprite edit and the story dispenses the ‘save the world’ hooplah in favor of a small incidental adventure. A kid dares you to test the raft, but after a frantic mini-game you realize you’re off course and away from home. This leads to adventures involving slaying monsters and being ignored by adults. There’s a rugrats-like wonder to the perspective that doesn’t quite get committed to, a lot of NPCs have weird funky things to say occasionally. Yet there’s an odd goal of finding out “where you came from” involving angels. Your cat is also named “Teddy Boy.”

It’s the first rm2k3 instance I can remember that used Battle Animations instead of Battle Charasets. Battle Charasets were sets of 3 frame animations meant to make swapping weapon graphics easier, but there was lesser known option to use Battle Animations instead (which were used for things like spells but had way more control and frames of animation). Huey also uses a hammer, which wasn’t the weapon of choice by most RM heroes. There was also a great deal of editing in the animations such as head tilts and manually holding puzzle items. It also has a very strong grasp on cliff based mapping, where elevation is carefully considered. These kind of details perplex the “People who use RTP are lazy” stigma this game would normally be placed in.

Huey the Kid didn’t get the best of reviews. It’s somewhat average by a lot of standards. The puzzles are longer than they should be, the battles don’t really demand much, and there were better RM games starring kids. So why did I remember this game? Why did I pick this game to review? I dunno. There doesn’t have to be a crazy meaning to everything, media doesn’t always have to go through holding up against the test of time. What matters to me the most about this game was the simple context of when and where I was playing it. I’d like to think that when GW’s main site froze, the flow of time really did stop.

Estimated length: 1 Hour

Download Here (Archive)
GW Game Page (Archive)

Youtube Sample Playthrough

Shattered Samurai

Created by: ArCsLnGa StUdIoS
Date Released: January 2003
Engine: RM2000

The late 90s obsession with Japanese culture and anime could be felt throughout many geocities/angelfire fan pages. Often you’d find gifs of SNK Fighters and anime chibi characters without a clue of where the webmaster got them from, other than they probably got it from a similar site themselves. Shattered Samurai is an amalgamation of that all in an RPGMaker game. I recall this topping a lot of download lists on various sites probably because of the title or its liberal use of Rurouni Kenshin images. Regardless, it’s a pretty subpar action game with a story that focuses heavily on the death of the main characters parents (and by heavily I mean literally every NPC references it).

The biggest memory that stuck out to me back when playing it in 2003 was the CMS (Custom Menu System). It was very flashy and elaborate and cumbersome. But the strangest thing is that almost every menu option had a sound effect of (presumably) the author reading them out loud. We can only assume the Kenshin background image are supposed to be the two main characters. The lens flare over anime aesthetic also contributed a lot to a perceived “cool factor” at the time. The ABS combat was sluggish. You could hit enemies if they’re 1 or 2 tiles away making for predictable encounters, but some fights did try to mix it up.

What makes this game a notable time capsule is its ambiguous Japanese setting. The home town is filled with cherry blossom trees, NPCs with conical hats, advice giving ninjas, and kanji scrolls on every wall. Yet main characters will have super western names like Jennifer or Charles, and very modern background elements. Probably the most RM culture part of this game is the house full of characters from other games and media. The writing is sometimes conceited though, often injecting samurai tropes whenever possible and proverbs that come off as wise for the sake of it. There’s a lot of staged conflicts without any particular purpose other than that’s what happens in an anime with lots of swords. It’s a huge misunderstanding of eastern ideals, but the game itself is like lens in which you can see into an anime fan’s mind circa 2002.


Shattered Samurai has been the community proclaimed “asian game”. It seems like the community (mostly gamingw) is seeing it as a bad thing. Guess were all the great RPG ever made come from? Japan maybe? Anyways as an Asian person, I personally loved the storyline about two rival clans. It seems to fit the anime type storyline from many great shows. Although the battle system has its ups and down, I think anyone would be crazy to say that it wasn’t unique and enjoyable. With excellent graphics and a high potential storyline, I just can’t wait for version 2 to come out.

Aznluv’s Review

This game was eventually completed at the tail end of 2002, although there is an earlier demo version and a sequel. Also I’m pretty sure I wrote a review on Dark Dominion claiming it ripped off Rurouni Kenshin and someone commented and defended the game. That’s about all I remember.

Estimated length: 3 Hours

Download (Complete Version)
Download (2002 Demo)

Main website (archive)
GamingW Page (archive)
Dark Dominion Page (archive)
Golden Dragon page and Review + Download Mirror

Youtube Intro Playthrough (No Commentary)
Let’s Play Series by ShadowHawk2012